Spring Lake

Immigrant entrepreneur makes a big difference in Spring Lake

Basil Bacall may not live in Spring Lake, but Village Manager Christine Burns considers him an important member of the small community. 

He is the owner of the Holiday Inn, the community’s only hotel and its largest employer during the summer season.

“Basil has been awesome,” says Burns, noting that in two years he has become well-ingrained in the community as a business owner and philanthropist. “He knows all the players. He knows the names and faces of the council members. They know him. I've talked to him more than I ever did in the seven years previous with the former owners.”

The Chaldean immigrant says his commitment to the community is fueled by his Christian faith. He sees his hospitality business as a way to give back, whether that is through supporting refugees or participating in local efforts like Spring Lake’s Art in the Park. 

Basil Bacall is owner of the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake.Showing he cares

Bacall, who lives in West Bloomfield, makes a six-hour roundtrip drive nearly every week to spend the day at the hotel. During the summer, the frequency of his visits increases.

“Just because I'm not here all the time, it doesn't mean that I cannot play a very positive role because, if you care, you can make it known in many different ways,” he says. 

On this snowy February day, he is turning his weekly visit into an overnight stay so he has time to get to know a few new employees. He sits in the hotel’s newly remodeled restaurant, which overlooks the Grand River.

After buying the 123-room hotel in June 2018, his company overhauled the property from rooms to common spaces. A new grand ballroom was carved from the restaurant to provide a venue for weddings and other gatherings.

That investment appears to be paying off. Bookings are up for weddings and other events, drawing in people from as far as Chicago and Milwaukee. 

Holiday Inn in Spring Lake is the biggest employer in the community.

Loving Spring Lake

His company, Elite Hospitality Group, owns 22 hotel properties, including Hilton and Marriott brands. Most are in Southeast Michigan. The Spring Lake-Grand Haven Holiday Inn is his only property in West Michigan.

Bacall says he fell in love with the location.

“It's a place that I would bring my family and just enjoy it. It's gorgeous. The people are nice, the community is wonderful,” he says. 

From his hotel upgrades to his philanthropy, Bacall has made a big difference in Spring Lake, says Angela Stanford-Butler, director of the village’s Downtown Development Authority. 

But his efforts haven’t all been embraced. When he converted the hotel’s longtime restaurant — the popular local hangout Jack’s Waterfront Restaurant — into Burger Theory, a Holiday Inn brand, not everyone was happy, she says. 

But changes were made to improve the experience of hotel guests, who prefer the new modern look and a menu featuring gourmet burgers and wood-fired pizza.

“The hotel is so beautiful compared to what it was,” says Stanford-Butler. “He's made such amazing strides with that building.”

Reaching out 

In 2007, he started the Adopt-A-Refugee Family, an organization that matches donors with persecuted Christian families in the Middle East in need of basic financial support. He and his friends underwrite the administrative costs so that all the donations go to the refugees. Working with the Chaldean Federation, the organization has raised $14 million to help more than 500,000 refugees. Most of the refugees are persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

“You see there are too many wars and then so many people displaced against their will, and the suffering these families and the kids go through. I felt we had a role to play to reach beyond ourselves,” Bacall says. 

Bacall arrived in the U.S. at age 17 as a refugee from Iraq, where his family was persecuted for their Catholic Christian faith. His brother, Eddie, who lived in Metro Detroit and owned a drugstore, sponsored his visa. The first thing Bacall did was to take ESL classes. Learning English allowed him to begin his studies. He then earned his GED, attended community college, and was accepted at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Taking flight

At the same time, he began taking flying lessons. At 21, he joined Northwest Airlines as a baggage handler and eventually became a pilot for the company — and was recognized as the youngest Chaldean-Americans to work as a pilot for a major airline.

But a pilot’s schedule proved too hectic for his young family at the time, so in 1995, he and his brother, Mike, bought a Quality Inn in Lansing. Since then, Elite Hospitality has grown into one of the Midwest’s top hospitality companies, with more than $100 million in annual sales.

Bacall, the company’s CEO, has received many business awards and has been featured in several publications, including a 2019 Time magazine cover story about the economic impact immigrants are making in the country.

Even so, Bacall says he’s not motivated by awards or making money.

“It’s about pride in what you do. That's how I feel about every property I own. We want to be the best at what we do.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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